Blazin' Saddles

Bradley’s Book

Blazin' Saddles

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On flicking through Bradley Wiggins' book about the 2010 Tour de France, Saddles was bemused to see that his advance press copy contained a rather large blemish on the bottom of the first page of the section devoted to Lance Armstrong.

It was surely just a coincidental fault of the printers - the ink smudge clearly could have just as easily tarnished the double-page spread on, say, the designer Sir Paul Smith - but Saddles did find it hard to suppress a little chuckle.

When things are going against you, sometimes even the smallest of coincidences can seem like a conspiracy. Poor Lance, trust his luck to have another stain against his name. And to make it worse, this stain looked rather like a fat exclamation mark.

Of course, it could all be an intentional joke on the part of Wiggo - although that seems unlikely given the Sky rider's awe of the seven-time Tour champion.

Wiggins admits that they both formed a bond during the 2009 Tour in which Armstrong denied our auteur a place on the podium in Paris by 35 seconds. Armstrong is described as a "tough cookie you wouldn't want to cross" but also "friendly and helpful". Without the Texan, Wiggins admits that riders like him wouldn't be enjoying such big salaries as they are now.

It's interesting to note that after the 2010 Tour in which both men drastically under-performed, they yet again finished one place after the other, with Armstrong's 35-second lead cut to just four seconds.

But try twisting that and calling the 2010 Tour an improvement to Wiggins and you'll be met with a stony gaze, the kind of reaction reserved for someone who has just slagged off both Liam Gallagher and his new men's fashion range.

In the introduction of his book On Tour - which is part journal, part photologue - Wiggins admits that the race was "the first really big public failure of my career".

The aim of the book, according to Brad's introduction, is "to offer a comprehensive snapshot of modern-day Grand Tour cycling".

One can presume that when Wiggins teamed up with his friend Scott Mitchell ("a professional photographer and fellow Mod") the pair had loftier ambitions for the subject matter than a 24th place in Paris, almost 40 minutes behind race winner Alberto Contador.

Indeed, a cynic would have a field day dissecting On Tour. A rider who confounded expectations to finish a career-best fourth place in 2009 joined a new team in the off-season where he became, instantaneously, undisputed team leader (a position he never held at Garmin) and had a team moulded around him.

Surely Wiggins, deep down, expected something special in the 2010 Grande Boucle and put the balls in motion for this to be documented. Why else would you plan, in advance, to capture every moment of the race for posterity?

Clearly, the motivating aim of his project was to portray the journey of one man on his way to mounting the podium in Paris. The snapshot Wiggins and Mitchell hoped - and expected - to capture wasn't one of chronic disappointment and underachievement.

With this in mind, it's incredibly brave of Wiggins to have swallowed his pride and gone on with the project in the wake of the race. In fact, it shows the same bullish spirit that it took for the Brit to finish a race, where most would have probably thrown in the towel. The result is an honest account of one man's torture and fall from grace - but also a celebration of the sport he clearly loves.

There's nothing ground-breaking in the book, that's for sure. Despite stressing that he'd never damage his body through doping, Wiggins doesn't come up with anything new about the cloud lurking over professional cycling.

In the section entitled "Pau" there isn't even mention of what he ate during the rest day - was it steak? Who knows?

In fact, the pages on Pau do provide a bit of unintentional irony when Wiggins recounts how, in previous Tours, the French city had been the site of many scandal - from Alex Vinokourov's outing for blood doping to the enforced withdrawal of Michael Rasmussen by his Rabobank team.

Wiggins himself even got arrested in Pau in 2007 after his then-Cofidis team-mate Cristian Moreni was done for doping. "Yep, it all tends to kick off in Pau, but at least today is quiet and the Tour seems asleep," he writes in his journal. In the background, you can almost hear the cows moo.

Wiggins the narrator comes across as sharing the same toned-down voice as the Twitter Wiggins of 2010 - not the outspoken joker who freely laid into all and sundry with a series of outspoken tweets throughout 2009.

We learn that his iPod playlist for the Tour contained songs by the likes of Kasabian, The Smiths, The Who, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller, The Jam and Ian Brown. But we could have guessed that before.

We learn that Mark Cavendish is "scarily intelligent in a non-academic way" and "second only to Contador as a world-wide cycling star now that Lance is bowing out".

We learn who Wiggins respects the most in the peloton and who he deems are unsung heroes; we learn that he has little time for returning drug cheats from Kazakhstan; we learn that he thought Contador was well within his rights to attack Andy Schleck after the latter's chain came off his bike in stage 15.

There are, without question, some great black-and-white shots in the 192-page book. We have images from inside the coveted Sky bus, some great pictures of fans and the pave of northern France and Belgium, photos of Wiggins posing in a retro England top on his Vespa bike (presumably taken on a rest day), of Wiggins and his wife and children reunited in Paris, and of the final leader board in which Armstrong's 23rd position and Wiggins' 24th place are in sharp focus.

There are funny images (two very fat French men on Bastille Day), arty images (Wiggins in a field of wheat wearing a hat with a Union Jack flag draped in the foreground), intimate images (a near-naked silhouette of 'The Twig' in his hotel room).

We learn that the saddle of Wiggins' bike carried a cartoon of him riding to Paris from London on a Union Jack moped. (Union Jacks are clearly big in the Wiggins family). The book's most iconic image is that of a worn-out Wiggins staring, post stage, into the lens with his shirt unzipped revealing a white chest with the name of his children, Ben and Isabella, tattooed above his left nipple.

This picture not only shows every muscle, vein and sinew of a man in perfect shape, but also the pain and suffering on his face after coming to terms with his uncompetitive showing. In the book's epilogue, Wiggins' wife Cath explains just how "wrecked" her husband was by the whole experience.

Every night when he was on the phone, Cath wanted to offer him some jokey wifely advice such as "check in your shorts and see if they're still there, you're being a girl". But in reality she was distraught herself for "it was hard to watch him try so hard and suffer".

All in all, On Tour makes a nice addition to the coffee table - especially if your coffee table only holds some old magazines and a few Beano annuals.

It's easy reading, unchallenging and, being made up predominantly of pictures, it doesn't take long to plough through. Wiggins sums up "the essence of this book" when, talking of the man behind the lens, he says: "He arrived fresh and, like the rest of us, he left Paris completely bolloxed."

Saddles wonders if there will be a follow up to On Tour in 2011. He suspects not. Surely Wiggins learnt his lesson last year - but bravo for pulling something from the wreckage.

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the off-season on www.twitter.com/saddleblaze.

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